CD Review

Still best-known as the producer or co-producer of such classics as U2's The Joshua Tree and Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, Daniel Lanois nevertheless has kept a solid solo career going for decades now. His eighth album is the subject of a documentary of the same name coming to DVD in March, making this the rare soundtrack that exists before the film. It's also notable for existing as a CD-quality download months before its CD version appears in stores to coincide with the film.

A strange beast, Here Is What Is mingles Lanois' arty leanings (he's a longtime Brian Eno collaborator) with his fondness for timeless songwriting. Pedal steel shows up on nearly every song, at once warm and sad, but never threatening to overwhelm the carefully constructed atmosphere. In trademark Lanois fashion, the record is slickly produced, with every detail pristine and almost fetishized, but that doesn't mean it's soulless or less than adventurous.

“Not Fighting Anymore,””Beauty” and the sleepy “Lovechild” are among the more country-influenced numbers, punctuated by the moving piano instrumental “Blue Bus.” On “Harry,” Lanois sounds a bit like Willie Nelson, with whom he's also worked, as he mutters such road-worn lyrics as “You've been runnin' your charisma down the walls of a rusted dream machine.” The closing “Luna Samba,” meanwhile, is the perfect embodiment of its title, and “I Like That” is naggingly surreal.

There's an almost gospel-like catharsis to “Smoke #6,” with its softly clattering percussion and impressionistic bouts of guitar twang, and some blues sneaks into the lengthy “Duo Glide” to mingle with the C&W foundation, segueing into experimental noodling for a spell. Mellow enough to appeal to your parents but unpredictable enough to make them scratch their heads, these 18 tracks feel stronger with every listen.

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